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Pinksy On His Religious Background Essay Research

Pinksy On His Religious Background Essay, Research Paper INTERVIEWER Did you have a religious upbringing? PINSKY In a way. My parents were nominally Orthodox Jews, but they were of a very assimilated,

Pinksy On His Religious Background Essay, Research Paper

INTERVIEWER

Did you have a religious upbringing?

PINSKY

In a way. My parents were nominally Orthodox Jews, but they were of a very assimilated,

secular generation, definitely not the black suit and sidelocks idea. . . .The didn’t go

to synagogue except of High Holidays, and sometimes not even then.

On the other hand, we did keep kosher. I didn’t taste ham until I was in college. . .

.They sent me to Hebrew school when I was eleven, but I knew that even on the more

religious side of the family, my mother’s, her brother hadn’t been bar mitzvahed. The

conflict, the ambiguity and compromise went back before their generation.

INTERVIEWER

And what was your reaction to that kind of conflict and ambiguity?

PINSKY

Restless, I suppose. The Jewish service and the rituals of Jewish life seem

designed to insulate, to define one away from the majority culture. And the majority

culture is so attractive. It was the fifties with American baseball in its golden age, and

rock’n'roll in its formative, glorious years. I was born in a good year, just the right

age for Jackie Robinson and Elvis Presley. Across the street from our synagogue was a

Catholic church; in my memory, beautifully dressed people, including girls my age, would

come and go, two or three shifts sometimes while we were in there praying away at our

three hour service.

I’ve never met a Jew who had the experience Joyce describes in A Portrait of the

Artist as a Young man, that crisis of faith. My Catholic friends have told me about

having such crises. But how can you have one in Judaism? . . . Although there’s no crisis

of faith to be had, there is a crisis of seduction, because the rituals and

customs tend to pull you away from the sweet predominant secular culture. . . . Terms like

assimilation, or saying you’re second or third generation, don’t catch the subtlety of

this richly absorbing conflict, the crisis of attraction toward the sweets, the question

of idolatry.

My grandfather, the one I associate with idolatry. . . sneered at religion, but when

his young wife, my father’s mother, died during childbirth, he went to synagogue five days

a week, early in the morning, to say Kaddish for her. . . . And when he died, my father

astonished me by doing the same, getting up before dawn to say Kaddish for Dave. When I

asked him why he, who never went to synagogue, would do such a thing for a man who

celebrated Christmas, who had a Christian wife, my father answered, "Because he did

it for my mother." So to that extent, or in some idiosyncratic way along those lines,

yes, I had a religious upbringing.

from the interview "The Art of Poetry: LXXVI," Paris Review, vol.

144, 1997: 180-213.

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